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Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.

When we discuss man’s creation, we are immediately drawn to the truth that man was created in the image and after the likeness of God.

We read in Genesis 1:26, 27: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

A proper understanding of man as God’s image-bearer will also take into account what we read in Genesis 2:7. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Man as a living soul

That man became a living soul does not itself explain the difference between man and the animals. The expression “a living soul” is not unique to man. For the Bible terms any creature that moves “a living soul.” See Job 12:10 and Revelation 16:3, for example. Whether a canary, a carp, or a cow, the animals, along with man, are living souls. That means the animals all have one thing in common with man—they are all of the earth and earthly creatures.

Man in the totality of his being was created a part of this earthly creation. He is organically united to this creation.

That organic unity of the creation also explains the so-called “balance of nature.” Unbelieving scientists, because of their spiritual blindness, are all confused concerning the organic unity of creation. They do not want God and His revelation, so they look to evolution for a basis for this unity. After all, there are close similarities between different kinds of creatures. There are even creatures which partake of the nature of plants and animals both. And as you proceed upward in the animal world, you seemingly get closer and closer to man.

As we have stated before with no vague language: evolution is a theory of unbelief. Man did not develop from a lower life form! To the Bible-believing Christian such a thought is totally out of the question! Nor do we have to expend our energies looking for a missing link between the animals and man. Unbelieving scientists will look in vain for that link until Christ returns in judgment.

But if the scientist wants to know why the similarity between the creatures, yes, even between man and the ape, the answer is found in Scripture: all of creation is an organically created whole.

Also man is united to the earthly creation. He is dependent upon it, inseparably related to it, can only live within it.

That is emphasized concerning man when God tells us specifically that He formed man out of the dust of the earth. God did not simply create man’s body out of the dust of the earth. That is not what Genesis 2:7 teaches. God formed man. Man in his entirety, body and soul, was formed out of the dust of the earth. We are of the earth earthy.

That is true of our body. We are strictly dependent upon the earth for our physical existence. We eat from the earth, just as do the plants and trees and animals. The only difference is that we eat prepared food.

But also man’s soul is of the earth earthy. We can only think earthly things. We can only see earthly things. We can only speak earthly language.

That, among other reasons, is why the so-called covenant of works does not fit with the teaching of the Scriptures. The covenant of works says that if Adam had not sinned, he would have gone to heaven. The covenant of works says that if man had walked in obedience to the stipulated regulations God set before him, he would have received the reward of everlasting life in heavenly glory. But he could not! That is clear from I Corinthians 15:47-50. It is impossible for an earthly man to live in heaven. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. If man, if you and I, are to go to heaven, a tremendous wonder must take place. Christ must come down to earth and make a doorway through which you and I can go to heaven. And He must prepare us for that life outside the realm of our present earthly existence. That is also God’s eternally wise purpose, according to Scripture. God created man unto that end.

But into man’s nostrils God breathed the breath of life! By that act another aspect was added to man’s nature.

When we read that God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, we must not think of God forming a lifeless clay statue and breathing into it in order to make it live. Rather, there is here one creation in which God gives to man a physical and a spiritual side. By one unfathomable creative act man was formed a living soul with physical and spiritual parts that are so closely related that man is one personal, thinking, willing, rational, and moral creature.

Indeed, the Christian, understanding this truth, sings with the psalmist in Psalm 139: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”

Man as an image-bearer of God

Man was created an image-bearer, a creature adapted to bear the image of God. He was created a rational, moral, willing, and thinking creature. Of this capacity to bear the image of God man can never rid himself. But not only was man created capable of bearing the image of God. Adam, as he came from the hand of his Creator, was the perfect man, endowed with the perfections of the image of God.

God created man in His own image. And God created man, as He had said to Himself within His own Triune Being, “after our likeness.” That term likeness is a further description of the term image. God created man in His own image in a way that the image was also a likeness, so that man in a creaturely way was not only capable of bearing the image of God, but actually carried that image. He was created after God’s pattern.

That is rather difficult for us to understand. We want immediately in our own minds to try to make God like us. But that is to twist things around. God is not like man. Man, rather, is created in the image and after the likeness of God.

This does not mean that man was given a “divine subsistence.” Man is not God. Man is not divine.

That is an error that permeates many of the Eastern religions. It is an error that stands as a main tenet of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, which is the wicked philosophy underlying New Age thought in our day. So, we are told, God is within man. The history of man is merely the story of man coming to consciousness of his own deity. Christ plays a role in this. That role is not to remove our guilt by His atoning sacrifice. That is said to be nonsense. There was no such thing as guilt. Just a lack of knowledge! The human plight is not a matter of guilt and misery from the offenses against a holy God, but ignorance of our human origins and potential, our own divine subsistence. Christ came as a revealer of gnosis, to help man come to the consciousness of his own deity.1

That is an error seen in New Age philosophy today, and even permeating a segment of the nominally Christian church, but one which had its origin with the devil, who gave his own interpretation of the image of God in man. His interpretation of God’s image in man was this: “Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.”

The lie of the devil notwithstanding, man is and remains a creature. There is only One of whom it is said, according to Hebrews 1:3, that He is the express image of the essence of God. That is Jesus, the Son of God Himself. There remains forever an infinite chasm between the being of God and that of man. God is the Creator; man is a creature. God is absolutely independent, the sovereign I AM; man is dependent in all his existence. That distinction must always be maintained. Although God surely dwells with man, He is always infinitely above him.

But Adam, as he came from the hand of his Creator, was the perfect man, endowed with the perfections of the image of God. He was not only an image-bearer. He was not only a creature capable of showing forth some of the virtues of God in his own being. But Adam actually possessed the image.

The image of God

If we try to penetrate into the meaning of this image of God, we learn from Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 in particular that the image consists in spiritual perfection and integrity. Specifically, it consists in man bearing the true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness.

The knowledge that belonged to the perfect man consisted of the clear and constant apprehension of the revelation of God in the things that are made. His mind was not an empty vessel, to be filled by experience. He was created with actual knowledge, true spiritual knowledge. He knew his God; he knew the world; he knew himself in relation to God and to the world. As he looked over the handiwork of God, Adam could understand the Word of God in each creature. In the whole creation he tasted of the lovingkindness of his God. He enjoyed life in the fellowship of his Creator.

So clear was Adam’s apprehension of that revelation of God in each creature that, as God brought the animals and birds to Adam, he named them perfectly. Today man looks at a cow and never thinks about the word of God in that cow. He thinks about how much milk or how much beef he will get out of it; he thinks about how much the price is for that milk or beef and how much money he will profit from it. But he never thinks of the word of God in that animal. How far we are fallen from our original state! Adam knew. He instantly knew how every creature served to show forth the glory of its Creator.

And Adam was righteous. His righteousness was not an imputed righteousness, as is the righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ; nor was it a righteousness acquired by Adam, established by the works of the law. But as man stood in the image of God, his righteousness was that God-created integrity of his will and his whole nature. Man’s life fulfilled God’s perfect standard from the very moment of creation.From the instant of his creation, it was man’s desire to do the will of his heavenly Father. He longed to live and to labor for the sake of his Friend-Sovereign.

And man was holy. That holiness came not in the way of a constant battle of sanctification. But his holiness was that in-created virtue of his whole nature, according to which in all things he longed and thirsted for the living God and consecrated himself to his Creator.

Yes, God created man good. Man was created to fill the place which God had appointed for him. He was able to love the Lord his God with all his heart and soul and mind, and his neighbor—his wife—as himself. A unique creation was man.

And only in that way could he realize his calling as friend-servant of God, and have dominion over all things. Adam was equipped with all that was necessary to realize his calling. He would serve and glorify his Creator—until the fall into sin. 

1 Very striking is the fact that nearly 80 years ago a young minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Rev. H. Hoeksema, exposed this same error in his position as editor for the department “Our Doctrine” in The Banner (October 3, 1918). Today the same error prevails and has been exposed as inseparably connected with the New Age movement. One book in particular which treats this connection is The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An Old Heresy for the New Age, by Peter Jones. This book was reviewed in the Standard Bearer, February 1, 1994.